If North Dakota’s Burleigh County Soil District directors were bull riders, they’d hold a big point lead in this rodeo called farming. They’ve learned to how produce more grain and forage and simultaneously reduce costs using crop crops. And now they are taking it up a notch.
Gabe Brown, Bismarck, N.D., is planting corn into a living crop. He’s had planting corn into a thick mat of dead residue left behind from non-winter hardy cover crops. But the microbes and other organisms are so active in his soil now that they eat through a thick mat of dead residue on the soil surface by the middle of the growing season. Brown wants to keep the soil surface covered all season long because the residue layer conserves moisture and reduces soil surface temperatures in the middle of the summer. If the soil temperature gets too high, soil microbes stop mineralizing residue and corn plants stop growing.
Glenn Bauer, Regan, hopes to turn cover crops into a cash crop. He harvested approximately 70,000 pounds of seed from his radish cover crop and is hoping to sell it for seed. He’s also going to spread cover crop seed with a floater this year rather than seeding it with an air drill.
Finding enough time and labor to seed cover crops during the fall harvest season is a problem for Bauer.
He’s hoping he can float on cover crop seed in the early morning when it is too wet to combine standing crops.
At the conservation district’s recent Soil Health meeting – attended by more than 500 farmers and industry folks – other directors discussed converting CRP to a pasture using a cover crop cocktail (the mix jumpstarts the biological life in the soil) and using cover crop mixtures to extending fall and winter grazing.
Troy Vollmer, Wing, says they didn’t put up any silage on their ranch this year. Instead, they are making cows find their own feed in cover crop and cornstalk pastures.